Shantel Smith shares today’s article, which she originally published on her organization’s blog, Stoplight Footprint. After graduating from the Andrews University Theological Seminary, Smith recently moved to Thailand, where she is the Executive Director of The Stoplight Project (website | Facebook). This ministry pursues “the social, spiritual and personal well-being of sex trafficking victims in Cambodia, empowering them through Christian counseling, education and vocational training in fulfillment of the ministry of reconciliation.” Her favorite Bible text is Joshua 1:9.
(28 July 2013)
I was welcomed in Chiang Mai by Julia Symes, who is hails from Australia, and currently works with ADRA Thailand as the Program Director. ADRA is doing some great work out here. I’ve been learning a lot about the administrative aspect behind the projects, which has been extremely helpful in working to develop culturally sensitive and contextually relevant programs for The Stoplight Project. She has also been feeding me really well. Kin Kao! “Eat rice!”
Anyways, after much research we headed to an orphanage in Chiang Mai, specifically for the mentally disabled. The orphanage works primarily with children who are autistic and/or have down syndrome. Sadly because Thailand functions within a hierarchical system, it is looked down upon for the Thai people to work with such communities, leaving room for those with refugee status, or those from Hill tribes, or those who are seeking asylum, with opportunity to work. It was very hard for me to be there at the orphanage, not just because of the language barrier but because I just didn’t know what to do or how to be. Finally, one little boy just came over and grabbed me by the arm and made me ride the swing with him. I was really nervous, but when I finally let loose, it was good times.
When we went to the night market, initially I hadn’t realized that it was such a touristy area. However, as we went further into the market, it became more and more clear that this is where the westerners hung out. It was close to midnight when we started for home, and as we drove along the strip to head back, I saw Karaoke bars, nightclubs and restaurants with young women and young girls, who were seated outside, lined up to entertain tourists. They had prices flashing everywhere for girls who were a younger age and girls who were older. It still hasn’t fully registered, but my trip just gets more real everyday.
I also had the privilege to meet Abigail. A little girl who was rescued from her father who was seeking to traffic her for income because of poverty. Her mother died giving birth to her in the jungle, while fleeing the Burmese army as a refugee. They have five other children ahead of Abigail, making it difficult for her father to provide as a single parent. It became even harder when Abigail grew ill. She had contracted worms and poverty had overtaken her little body. She was only being fed sugar water. The only thing the father could think of was to sell her to a brothel so that she could provide income. But when a near-by orphanage, hearing of the situation and condition of the child, asked if there would be anyone in the Adventist church who would be willing to help take care of her, a South African couple volunteered to do so temporarily. Growing attached to Abigail, they decided they wanted to adopt. They helped restore her back to health, and she is now a living, breathing, walking embodiment of God’s goodness. The adoption process is very long and very expensive in Thailand, so please keep Abigail and her new parents in prayer.
I left Chiang Mai and am currently in Chiang Rai, where the Keep Girl’s Safe home is located. These are girls that were at risk of being trafficked, either because their parents are very poor and needed some income or because they were left as orphans on the treat for anyone to exploit. Thus, the shelter takes them in and provides them with education and a safe place to live. I like it better here because I get to stay with the girls–sleep with them, eat with them, play with them and learn with them. They all call me Pee Santi, which means “Big sister Peace.” I love it! Their stories are very sad, too sad to share right away; my feelings are still in progress.
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